Buca Osteria & Bar at 53 Scollard Street (or the Four Seasons condo tower) is the newest addition to the King Street Food Company's group of restaurants. With an already impressive list of successful restaurants in its portfolio such as Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse (2007), Buca Osteria & Enoteca (2009), The Saint Tavern (2012) and Bar Buca (2014), owners Gus Giazitzidis, Peter Tsebelis and chef Rob Gentile are certainly doing everything right. After all, world renowned chef Jamie Oliver doesn't just partner up with anybody to open a restaurant (in case you've been living under a rock Mr. Oliver will be collaborating with King Street Food Company to open North America's first Jamie's Italian at Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Spring 2015). According to the press release, the establishment "will feature pasta and pizza made fresh daily on-site, an antipasti station with cured meats and an open kitchen, bringing the Italian family-style of dining to life." I'm excited, how 'bout you?
Sorry, I digress. My three friends and I visited Buca Osteria & Bar, or Buca Yorkville (@bucayorkville), last month for dinner. Similar to Bar Buca, this new location is open during the day from 8AM to 5PM serving specialty coffees and pastries, as well as lunch on weekdays and weekends.
I like the room here. It's spacious like Buca on King yet I appreciate the brighter lighting at this Yorkville location (it can get a tad dark at the King West spot sometimes). Modern and contemporary elements from Bar Buca, such as marble accents and concrete walls, can also be found but they are balanced with warm lighting and wooden floors here.
The 85-seat restaurant has a seafood-centric menu inspired by the coastal cuisine of Italy. You'll find a wide selection of house-made smoked and cured fish (think charcuterie but with fish), market oysters, crudo of whole branzino carved table side, whole salt-baked fish (also served table side), crudo misto platter serving a daily selection of raw sea food, fried apps such as crisp Altlantic cod tongues and crisp eel, plus Buca's signature pastas and pizzas that we have grown to love. If you love tasting menus, Buca Yorkville do those too. Limited to one seating a night, six diners get to experience a three-hour gastronomic feast at the chef's rail for $180 per person (additional $100 for wine pairings).
Here's a look at what I had at Buca Yorkville:
MANHATTAN SICILIANO ($16)
MANHATTAN SICILIANO ($16)
Four Roses bourbon, Amaro Averna, Buca bitters
Warm bread knots, olive oil, rosemary, garlic
CRUDO MISTO ($139)
Daily selection of raw seafood, unfiltered olive oil, meyer lemon, sale di cervia (serves four)
SALUMI DI MARE (Choice of 3 or 5, $19/$29)
SOPPRESSATA DI POLIPO - Octopus salami, preserved lemon (Georgia Straight, BC)
ANGUILLA AFFUMICATA – Hot-smoked eel (Port Elgin, New Brunswick)
TONNO AFFUMICATO – Cold-smoked albacore tuna (Lady Brooke, Nova Scotia)
Razor clams alla piastra, pork n’duja
GNOCCO FRITTO ($9)
Squid ink dumplings, sword fish n’duja
Preserved tomato, basil, burrata cheese, terre di san mauro olive oil
Cured spicy sausage, virgin mozzarella, bariole olive, testun di Barolo cheese
QUINCE GELATO, HAZELNUT GELATO, ROSA PLUM SORBET
FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH BUTTERNUT SQUASH SORBET
ZEPPOLE WITH PISTACHIO CREAM
I really enjoyed my dinner at Buca Yorkville. The food was solid and our server was incredibly knowledgeable about every dish he brought out for us. We started with bread knots (surprise surprise) because it doesn't matter which Buca I'm at I have to order them (the nodini is a Buca staple) but hey, let's be real, the reason why I went to Buca Yorkville was for their seafood. The star of the evening, and what I went completely gaga over, was the crudo misto platter. At $139, you may experience some sticker shock but hear me out, it's totally worth it. Served with olive oil, Meyer lemons and coarse salt, the selection and the quality of the seafood is second to none. That night's selection included bay scallops, shrimp, branzino, trout, albacore and SEA URCHIN a.k.a THE LOVE OF MY LIFE. I was in complete bliss. Next, the salumi di mare. If you're ordering this make sure you get the smoked eel. It was firm, meaty, and a bit oily with a hint of smokiness. Delicious! Razor clams, which I see more often on menus nowadays, is something I actually crave from time to time. My favourite way of having them is steamed with garlic and black bean sauce at Cantonese restaurants. So far I haven't found a non-Asian razor clam dish that I love but this griddled version certainly comes close. The 'nduja (a spicy pork salami spread) adds substantial flavour to the clams, giving them a nice kick. Chef Gentile (@ChefRobGentile) puts a twist on the traditional 'nduja in the next dish; big pillowy squid ink dumplings were served with a spoonful of swordfish 'nduja. While the peculiar dumplings were pretty cool to look at (they were charcoal black) they actually don't offer much flavour, I also wanted like 5x more of that delicious swordfish spread for those poofy dumplings. After all the exquisite seafood our stomachs yearned for some carbs. The burrata pizza is a must-order at Buca; the ratio of mozzarella and cream cannot be more perfect and it hits the spot every time. The Salsiccine, a white pizza, was also a delight (by the way if you're feeling really baller go for their $80 Tartufu Bianco pizza with taleggio cheese, duck egg yolk and white truffles from molise!) Chef Gentile utterly spoiled us by bringing out four stunning desserts! My favourites were the tiramisu (this speaks volumes given I don't usually like tiramisu), the pistachio cream zeppole (anything with pistachio is automatically awesome in my book) and the hazelnut and quince gelato.
Before I go I want to mention that I think it's brilliant how Buca Yorkville - even though strikingly different in many ways than Buca on King and Bar Buca - can still evoke a feeling of familiarity to me. How should I put this? Although this Yorkville outpost is the only Buca with a seafood-focused offering, its menu still reads very similar to the menus found at the other two Bucas. I knew that the crisp and small bites are ideal plates to share at the beginning of the meal; that I would have to pick 3 or 5 salumi di mare like how I would with the salumi di buca at King West; that the cold plates are large enough for the table to share; and that all the pizzas will be served with a pair of scissors. This familiarity is so comforting because despite knowing that I'll be having all sorts of new dishes in a few minutes, reading the Yorkville menu conjured up memories of all the fabulous meals I ever had at Buca on King and Bar Buca. I think this is one of the reasons why the Buca empire is so successful. Even though each Buca restaurant focuses on a different area / type of Italian cuisine, the Buca entity as a whole manages to strike a sense of familiarity to people. As in, if you've been to one Buca and liked it, chances are you will like the other two locations as well. The quality - or what I call the "Buca Standard" - is consistent across the three restaurants.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to visiting Buca Yorkville again soon for their tasting menu. If I can't snag a seat for that I'll settle (ha!) for another a la carte dinner. I definitely want to try their table side branzino, their double-stuffed lobster ravioli, one (or two) of their three very delicious-sounding seafood mains, and their braised octopus and sword fish 'nduja pizza. I've got it all planned out, guys!